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A Check of the Crystal Ball - 3/1/2011 -

What does the future hold for association content and how your members will be reading it?

By Jacqui Cook

The cover story for the March/April issue of Signature magazine examines the future of content consumption for associations. How will your members communicate? What will they be reading? What won’t they be reading?

For a preview of the answers, we asked Gregory J. Fine, CAE, to share his thoughts as vice president of marketing and communication at the Association for Corporate Growth and vice president of the Association Media & Publishing board of directors.

Final Proof: What is the current environment for association communications? What's working? What’s not?

Fine: In a word, changing. From declining advertising revenue, increased competition, an explosion of content sources and an overload of choices, it is increasingly hard for associations to cut through the chatter.

One of the biggest challenges is to reduce our dependence on e-mail. E-mail works and we just keep sending more and more, often longer and longer with lots of pretty pictures. At the same time, members are increasingly mobile and not reading these e-mails at their desk, rather in the palm of their hand. We have to learn how to deliver content and messages in fewer words and in formats that are mobile friendly.

What is working … digital publishing is a start. But often a digital publication is simply an electronic version of a printed piece. The design is often not tweaked for digital, let alone mobile.

Final Proof: How does an association address the challenges association with member communications and still reach the largest number of members possible?

Fine: First, there is no common platform. We used to be able to design and deliver for the desktop, and often these communications could be printed on 8.5-by-11-inch paper. Today, members increasingly are consuming content 24/7 on a whole host of platforms. This means we have to design and deliver for these multiple platforms. By doing this, we should be able to reach a larger number of members.

Mass customization continues as well. Members want to be able to access the information when they need it. The proliferation of information provides associations both a challenge and opportunity – we can become the trusted source or at least a "vetted” source.

Final Proof: There is no question that our members are still reading, but what is the best way to find out how they are reading (PC, mobile, tablet)? 

Fine: One way is to survey, but a traditional survey may not catch everyone. Consider sending a text message to members’ mobile phones with a single question. Also, watch what members are doing and using at large meetings. I have begun to notice more iPhones at ACG events, but so far, iPads are less common.

Final Proof: As a longtime association communicator, what are your best strategies for cutting through the communication clutter to get the message across?

Fine: First, be relevant. Second, be short and easy to read. Third, make the content easily searchable and sharable.

Jacqui Cook is a freelancer writer in the Chicago area. For more insights on the future of association content consumption, check out the March/April issue of Signature.


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